Education Advisors Square Off at Teachers College

On Tuesday, two education advisors to the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns sat down and debated their respective candidates’ stances on education at Teachers College in New York. Linda Darling-Hammond, an advisor to Obama, and Lisa Graham Keegan, an advisor to McCain, were vague on some issues but did shed some light on how education policy would be shaped under their candidates if elected. Here are some of the highlights:


McCain feels all students need to be assessed and schools need to be held accountable. All students need to be assessed using the same measures, or students cannot be accurately compared. The best way to assess students is to examine test scores. He is against portfolio assessments but wants to look at value-added methods.

Obama supports its goals but feels the law needs to be changed. He would like to look at alternate accountability methods such as value-added methods. He thinks 21st century skills should be taught and assessed to help U.S. students keep up with the rest of the world. Science, history, and technology should also be given equal time as math and reading. Hammond feels current testing is stuck in the 1950s. Obama would like more essay questions as opposed to multiple choice questions on tests.

On Vouchers:

McCain supports vouchers and wants parents to have the choice of where they can send their children to school.

Obama does not like the idea of vouchers until there is evidence they improve performance.

On Incentives:

McCain is for performance pay for teachers. He would divert federal funds to principals and allow them to award it to teachers at their discretion.

Obama would create a “career ladder” rewards system, allowing teachers to become expert mentors, master teachers, etc. He would provide professional development and other similar tools for teachers, allowing them to better themselves and move up the career ladder.

On Investments:

McCain has a $1 billion plan that focuses on different aspects of technology. He does not support an increase in K-12 funding (uses the amount of money D.C. uses versus the poor performance of the school system as an example) and says the problem is not money but lack of quality teachers. He would push for the top 25 percent of college students to take pedagogy-related courses so that they can enter the education field at some point in their lives if they so choose. McCain likes Teach for America and similar programs and would like to expand them.

Obama wants to invest in schools that work and expand them and close schools that are not working. Obama would support investment in technology, including $500 million to ensure schools have Internet access. Obama would double the research and development budget and look at what programs work and which ones do not. He wants to make sure all schools, teachers, and students have the resources they need to be successful.

On Early Childhood Education:

McCain does not see preschool education as a priority and questions whether it is worth putting funds into early education because he is not convinced it is effective.

Obama will add $10 billion to early childhood education and the Head Start program.

On Higher Education:

McCain wants students to continue taking college-level courses in high school so that they can make the transition more easily.

Obama wants to give students a $4,000 tax credit that would help pay for two-thirds of their college tuition at a public university. He has supported increases in Pell Grants’ value, and he wants to push for technology education so that high-tech jobs are filled in America.

Who do you feel has the better policy to improve the education of America’s youth?

Read the full transcript of the debate.

*The above statements are the candidates’ positions according to advisors Linda Darling-Hammond and Lisa Graham Keegan.